Ukrainians who have fled the country amid Russia’s military offensive should not return home before spring, Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said on Tuesday. Staying away would protect them from unnecessary risk and help the country “survive” its deepening energy crisis, she added.
Speaking on national TV on Tuesday, Vereshchuk claimed Russia was losing on the battlefield and had therefore turned to “terrorizing the civilian population” by targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
“I will ask you not to return, we need to survive the winter. Unfortunately, the power grids will not survive, you see what Russia is doing. You don’t need to do this. If you have the opportunity to stay, it’s better to spend the winter abroad,” Vereshchuk said.
She said she would like to see everyone return in the spring to rebuild Ukrainian cities and villages together.
“Our children must live and study here, but for now let’s hold back, because we understand that the situation will worsen, and we have to survive the winter. We will survive the winter, and then we will think about everything else,”she added.
According to a poll published by the Kiev-based Razumkov center in late August, more than 90% of Ukrainian refugees plan to return home at some point. More than 88% of those intending to return plan to live in the same region where they lived prior to the beginning of the Russian attack on February 24.
Ukraine has been experiencing regular blackouts since Moscow launched massive strikes against its critical infrastructure, including power stations on October 10, accusing Kiev of terrorist attacks on Russian infrastructure. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has since asked his compatriots to ease pressure on the struggling energy system by limiting electricity use between 5pm and 11pm.
On Monday, the head of the state-owned energy giant Naftogaz, Yuri Vitrenko, said that Ukraine was facing “the worst winter in history,” marked by “constant power outages.” He explained that recent Russian airstrikes have also hit oil refineries and destroyed “about 40% of the power generation plants.”
On the same day, the Ukrainian online retailer Rozetka revealed that the last two weeks had seen a sharp increase in demand for “goods needed in the event of an energy crisis,” such as potbelly stoves, power banks, candles and gas burners.